Categories: Local

Emergency board meeting called at Utah Pride Center

An emergency meeting of the Utah Pride Center Board of Directors was called in response to a letter, signed by former board members and staff of the Center as well as high-profile leaders of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and ally community, calling for executive director Valerie Larabee’s resignation as well as a review of the existing board members.

The meeting was called late this afternoon and took place at 6 p.m. at the Center’s board room.

Prior to the discussion of the letter, board members talked about many issues brought to acting president John Netto since his election two weeks ago.

Much talk centered around regaining the trust of the community, especially surrounding the SAGE Utah program since the Center let its program director, Charles Lynn Frost, go because of budgetary reasons.

The layoff of Frost and director of operations Joe Gonzales, as well as remaining staff agreeing to take a 20 percent cut in pay and benefits, has opened the Center’s board and executive director to scrutiny at all levels.

SAGE Utah’s advisory board presented a letter to Netto and the board at a “talking circle” meeting Nov. 6, which said, ““[T]rust has been severely compromised over the last year, but more specifically, no one on the Sage Advisory Committee felt they held any trust or confidence in the management or leadership capacity of the Utah Pride Center.”

The advisory board requested that SAGE Utah be released to them and run separately from the Center, but utilizing the space for meetings.

At tonight’s board meeting, Netto and several board members said that the requests made were reasonable, yet several issues needed to be addressed, such as the name of the organization being owned by the Center and that email addresses were entrusted to the Center as people signed up for the organization.

“These email addresses were entrusted to the Utah Pride Center,” said board member Alison Beddard. “We need to protect their privacy.”

Netto said that he wanted to give the SAGE advisory board more autonomy, though still hold the program under the Center’s umbrella.

“SAGE needs to know that, while we are giving them autonomy, there are rules,” board treasurer Chris Wharton said. “The board [of the Utah Pride Center] has fiduciary obligations.”

The board voted unanimously to draft a memorandum of understanding between the Center and the SAGE Utah advisory board within the next two weeks.

Netto announced that he had spoken with leaders of SAGE, asking them to write a $5K-$10K proposal, to which he promised to use Center resources to raise the seed money.

Next, the board talked about the potential formation of a community council and advisory groups to help the board decide how to best address the community.

Netto charted out a possible way of making such an idea happen, but many board members said that current bylaws and state law would prohibit such a council.

Board member Jen Seelig said she liked the idea of increasing community participation, however she felt the advisory groups and community council added additional bureaucratic layers, further separating the board from the community, rather than bringing them closer together.

Instead, the board determined it would be best to do as their bylaws state, and give notice of board meetings, offer time at the beginning of meetings for anyone in the community to speak, and to assign each board member a group with which to interface.

Board member Jesse Nix suggested that board members would be assigned to respective groups within the community and actively seek out input and attend their activities.

“People feel they have no voice,” Nix said. “People would now be working directly with voting members of the board.”

Nix also suggested that the Center’s monthly email blasts include an online survey with open-ended questions, such as, “What is the Center doing right?” and , “What is the center doing wrong.”

Netto said that each of the board members who is representing a part of the community is responsible for lobbying for their group; to be their voice.

Chris Wharton and Jen Seelig were chosen to draft a plan to increase community participation and representation in the Center within the next two weeks.

Next, board members discussed a succession plan for any leader in the organization.

“We need to protect the financial stability of the Center as long as we are around,” Netto explained. “And we also need to develop a strategy that helps build future leaders.

That discussion took on a broader range, as it was wrapped into an entire review of the Center’s bylaws, also run by Wharton and Seelig.

Netto encouraged all board members to participate.

“We need all hands on deck,” he said, “to decide what we like about what we are doing, and what we need to change.”

Lastly, before the board went into executive session to discuss the personnel issues, Nix described his project to address the issues of transparency in the organization.

“There are transparency issues at three levels of the organization,” Nix said. “Transparency in our finances, transparency in our operations and transparency in our communications.”

Board member Jon Jepsen also noted that there needs to be transparency on the board, particularly in the selection process of board members.

The meeting was then closed to the public to discuss the letter of no confidence presented to Netto earlier today.

According to the Center’s bylaws, if the board makes decisions during executive session, they must be reported in an open meeting and recorded into the minutes. Details of the debate and discussion before and after, however, are kept confidential.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 2.

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Michael Aaron

Michael Aaron is the editor and publisher of QSaltLake. He has been active in Utah's gay and lesbian community since the early 80s and published two publications then and in the 90s.

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